Observations on the USA (by the German Boyfriend!)

Blogging friends, if you are expecting to read a blog post from Jordan, I’m afraid that I have to disappoint you. After having been referred to as “the Prince” in many previous blog posts, having had my girlfriend observe differences in my country on no less than three occasions (read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and having her even disclose my funny mistakes in the English language and my sleep talking habits, it is finally time for me to have my own say! ;)

Obviously this rare opportunity had to be chosen wisely! After having just completed a wonderful two-week trip in the USA with Jordan, what could be more fitting than my very own list of observations on America?

1. I want to start with a rather general observation which I made the first day of my visit and which continued all the following days. Everything from buildings, highways, cars, meals, and stores are two to three sizes bigger than in Europe. As overwhelming as that might have been for me at the beginning, just imagine my reaction when I landed in Europe after two weeks. My beloved Hamburg looked rather like a reproduction of Hamburg’s famous Miniatur Wunderland.

2. Most of the highways we have been driving on seemed almost vacant. Not a single car behind or in front of you but yet you weren’t allowed to drive more than 70 mph. Born in a country where you have no speed limits on most highways, I had a hard time not to constantly push the driver to finally increase to a reasonable speed!

3. Actually, drivers on an American road are wise not to speed. The fines for that are insanely high!

4. The average American car engine will be twice as big as the German equivalent. Kind of sad if you take into account that they can never make full use of them. Get an Autobahn, already!

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5. A lot of the parking lots have a parking meter. If you’re lucky, the person before you has left you time so you don’t have to pay at all!

6. You never have to pay for restrooms on highways. Nice service!

7. When we drove through smaller towns, I noticed that Americans have their mailboxes on the street. In Germany almost every mailbox is directly fixed to your house. Ironically, these mailboxes from a distance seemed for my trained eye to be radar traps. In Germany and all over Europe, these little boxes regularly take sweet memory photos of your latest car trip which might have been on a too high speed. I always had to bit my tongue not to shout “watch out” to the driver when I saw one.

8. Since we spent four days in the car I also observed differences with road signs – Americans seem to LOVE their STOP signs and put them almost everywhere. So if you have to bring your car to the garage after only 1000 miles to renew your brakes, it probably has been because you had to make 20 full stops on your way to the grocery store. Also, European signs are all in symbols (except of course the famous STOP sign), while Americans just write long texts on their signs to tell you where to go or what to do.

Observations on the USA via Wayfaring With Wagner9. Gas prices are, depending on the region, three to four times cheaper than in Germany. Jealous!!!

10. Contrary, food in grocery stores will cost you more money.

11. Traffic lights for pedestrians all have countdowns. It is super practical and we definitely should adopt that here in Germany more!

12. Houses are often built with wood while Europeans and Germans prefer stone.

13. Speaking of houses, almost every house has an American flag flying in front. When you are driving down a typical American small town street, all these cute houses with their flags will offer you a beautiful view.

14. This probably isn’t a big surprise to most readers, but Americans are way more patriotic than Germans. While you will see rarely see people waving German flags (besides the World Cup), Americans love to show their colors, wave their flags, sing the national anthem, and shout “USA, USA, USA!”

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15. Almost every house and shop will have an air conditioning. Since we had temperatures close to 100 F (38C), this probably saved my life.

16. Another very practical thing I’ve seen in the USA was drive-thru ATMs.

17. I have already alluded to the long hours we spent in the car. This automatically meant that I could experience firsthand that the USA is the motherland of fast food. I’ve experienced Wendy’s, Panera, Chick-Fil-A, Five Guys, and of course McDonalds! Needless to say, I absolutely loved it and I can only hope that German restaurants will someday adopt the free refill of beverages.

18. Besides free refills, I feel that service personnel in the USA is friendlier in general. Perhaps because of that you are expected to tip more than you are in Europe.

19. Although the USA is known for their fast food, healthy food trends seem to be popular as well. I’ve seen in almost every restaurant gluten-free and vegan meals on their menu and some of them even disclosed the amount of calories for every meal.

Observations on the USA via Wayfaring With Wagner20. Most Germans have a very low opinion of American beer, but I have to confess that I actually drank some very nice beers there. Also, microbreweries are getting more popular and produce decent beers. Maybe this can someday change the stereotype of boring, watery American beer?

21. Americans take the legal drinking age of 21 very seriously. Even when you are a lot older than 21, you still will be asked for your driver’s license to verify your age, even when you are “only” ordering a beer. Since Germans are allowed to buy beer and wine at 16 years old, this is clearly a big cultural difference!

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22. Americans use their cutlery differently. First, they cut their meat with the knife in the right hand and then switch the fork to the right hand to pick up all the pieces. I ate “the German style” with my fork in the left hand and was asked if I was a “lefty”. Because I had no clue that the person was alluding to the handling of my cutlery, I answered, “No, I’m voting Conservative.”

23. Americans love their small talk.

24. While a lot of Americans don’t learn a foreign language and if so, a lot later in school than Europeans, they are very interested in your native language. Also, they are thankfully very forgiving if you make mistakes in English. Presumably this is because they’re just happy they don’t need to speak in a foreign language ;)

25. Even though a lot of people know soccer and it’s getting more popular in the USA, it can never compete with the love of football and baseball Americans have, two sports which most Germans have never watched a full game in their entire lives.

26. Contrary to German showers, Americans only use one instrument for adjusting the temperature and water flow. Plus, the shower head is fixed to the wall in most showers. May I kindly suggest you guys get this device? ;)

Now I want to have your opinion – have I observed anything inaccurately? Or, if you are European, have been to the USA as well and want to contribute your observations? Comment below!

Lastly, let me thank the Wagner family and everybody else who made my two weeks in the USA such a wonderful experience. I hope to be back there as soon as possible!

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  • I love this so much. Thanks so much for sharing your observations! These kinds of comparisons are one of the most fun parts of getting to know someone from a different country and culture. I have heard similar musings from some of my European friends as well. I will defend America’s craft beer scene too; I’m glad you enjoyed learning of this! It’s such a huge thing that most cities have more than one craft brewery (Richmond alone has over 13!) and that real beer drinkers appreciate and enjoy them far more than the Budweiser and other watery beers that Europeans have heard of due to marketing and broke college students ;)

  • This post is GREAT. You described the USA perfectly. I find it really funny that cars are so small here in Europe. They are like little tiny shoes. The other day we found a Ford Lobo on the road and were quite surprise, the plates were from the USA no less! hahah. We knew something was off with that. Glad to see you tasted the best of the US! Hope there are more visits to come ;)

  • The portion sizes… YES! I think I managed to finish one meal out when I was in the US, and we didn’t only eat fast food! I for one do NOT need free refills… we went to Wendy’s and I couldn’t even finish ONE drink. It was supposed to be a small but it was so, so much Sprite!

    In the UK, c all the food up so the pieces can be eaten individually is something you do for small children who haven’t learned to use a knife yet ;-)

  • Enjoyed your post very much. I’m going to the States in November and I’m really looking forward to seeing all these things for myself :P I was a little surprised about the food in supermarkets generally being more expensive – is it really true that it’s cheaper to eat at a restaurant?

  • Great blog, I grew up in Germany and the USA, so I can relate to many of those items. One big difference in terms of drinks/refills is the fact the we put so much ice in our cups here, the actual amount of liquid is limited. Last Christmas I went to the movies in Germany and had a large drink – it was a FULL liter of Coke – no ice! My bladder was bursting 20 minutes into the movie…

  • Come back soon, Peter! I’ve re-stocked the Goose Island 312 Wheat Beer. It was so much fun finally meeting the Prince. Miss and love both of you. Great article….

  • I really enjoyed this post! My husband would totally agree about the speed limit needing an increase! When we were in Amsterdam, a friend tried to get a refill on their drink at a Burger King, the cashier just laughed and shook her head haha. I love that we are so patriotic, and wish other countries felt similarly.

  • We have mailboxes on the street and wooden houses in Norway too! I just find those mailboxes adorable and even though I was concerned that people would steal our mail at first, we never lock our mailbox now :D And wooden houses are not only way cuter but also so much warmer than the stones houses we have in Germany. I always freeze whenever I visit Germany during summer cause many Germans turn off their central heating between April and October or something like that and it can get so cold! :D

  • having to pay to use the restrooms in europe is an annoyance, but the fact that this applies to actual rest stops too is really annoying! thankfully a few that we encountered on our recent trip which involved driving from the austrian alps to slovenia, and back to vienna we found some let you use your fee towards anything in the shop, even a small snack or soda. that was appreciated, but still! glad this free service was something you appreciated in the us!
    b

  • So much fun to read this, as an American who has spent time living in Germany (and elsewhere in Europe)! So many of things you comment on are things that I love about Europe — the mail slots in the doors, the Autobahn, the smaller roads, smaller houses closer together, etc., not having to worry about being carded (though after dyeing my hair last fall, I DID get carded in the UK buying a very small bottle of gin!).

    I do agree that 65mph speed limits when you’re on absolutely empty Iowa highways is frustrating.

  • I loved this so much. I am dying at the lefty comment, that’s my favourite. I’ve had Australians comment on the drive thru ATMs too (well drive thru everything…). Sounds like you had a great trip and how precious is your dad commenting? ????

  • Loved reading your comments, Peter. It’s so interesting to see how someone from another country sees ours. You were mostly complimentary, and that was nice. Like Courtney, I had a big laugh over the “lefty” comment. I think the European way of handling cutlery really makes more sense and have wondered about it myself. I will give your way a try, although I doubt I can get used to it after handling the fork with my right hand all of my life. So glad to hear how much you enjoyed your visit. I knew you would, especially with John and Kim Wagner as hosts, and with a sweet wonderful girlfriend like Jordan! They are the BEST!

  • I have a feeling you made your boyfriend do lots of driving – half of these points are on driving differences! How very German! ;) But in all seriousness: His first point on everything in the US being bigger was exactly the very first thing I noticed when I moved to Canada! One of the first thoughts I had upon leaving the airport in Edmonton was that all the cars were ginormous! I realize that Canada and the US are obviously different in some ways, but that’s one thing the two countries seem to have in common! ;) Glad he enjoyed his first time visiting the States! :)

  • I don’t think being in America dwarfs Hamburg. In fact, whenever we visit, I feel more at home there. I’m from Seattle and live in Oberursel. I miss living in a city on the water. I know I live near the Rhein, but a river is different. I love the salty smell, the dry docks, the ships, and mixture of old and new.

    As far as the tipping goes. I’m sure Jordan told you that most servers make under minimum wage. They have to get their own health care. They get no vacation days. They rely on tips for their income. Tipping is always a difficult adjustment when I come home to the states.

  • Haha most of these sound terrifying to someone from Canada but I always love to hear the differences that people experience in another country. Everything is so much bigger in North America – I miss that when I’m in Europe …or actually I realise it when I go home and feel so much more free because there is more space. I am kind of jealous of all the fast food in america haha haven’t tried it all yet!

  • How fabulous to hear from the Prince! I think you were very kind in your observations (kinder than I am after returning from the homeland). And I love that shower head device you linked to! Although I lived my whole life with shower heads fixed to the shower wall, they now drive me nuts. Besides that, regardless of temperature, my parents’ guest shower has only two settings: powerwash and sandblast.

    Free water is nice, and not having to pay for a restroom stop also, but the over-friendly service in restaurants annoys me (though I realize they are expected to do that for tips). I always love reading Germans’ observations of the US and Americans’ observations of Germany. I really enjoyed your post!

  • Haha, I love this. My (German) husband complains about the lack of detachable shower heads in the US and I totally agree. Another interesting difference is the way beds are made. I didn’t like it at first, but now I’ve come to love the separate blanket/comforter system in Germany (and elsewhere in Europe). Meanwhile, I still think paying to use the restroom is ridiculous (especially if it’s at a business where you’ve already paid money to enter).